Four Months in London- Where Am I

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

As you may know, I made a huge life decision back in April and decided to move back to London to attempt my Master's degree in Marketing. I've been here for about four months now, so I'm going to give an honest look at moving across the globe on your own. I wish I could say moving here was everything I ever thought it would be. Most of the time, I love the whirl of the city, the never-ending list of things I could do in one of the most culturally diverse places in the world. The reality is that I spend most of my days staring out the window during my hour long commute to class or laying on my couch scrolling through my FaceBook feed. 

Don't get me wrong, I have done some amazing things this year, most of which involve the amazing friend group I've made. I've had parties, gone to concerts, explored shopping malls, and even had a painfully complicated trip home to visit my family. Despite so much good, life here has also been regretfully difficult. It's been constantly questioning myself and my abilities, crying at little things that feel like they should be easy, and trying to find possessions before screaming because I left it in another country. 

One of my friends showed me a theory about a month ago, the 5 Stages of Culture Shock. When I first saw it I laughed, and I thought "I'm not going through culture shock! I already know about the culture here!" However, after looking at it again, I've realised that moving across the world all on my own has affected me more deeply that I could ever have anticipated despite living here for half of last year.

When I moved here last year, it was a dream come true. Fresh out of university, I was working at an internship in a huge city, and living with people all from the same country as me. I went on crazy adventures, and honestly, I didn't have to assimilate for the first 2 months I lived here because everything was taken care of for me. I don't think I was honest with myself about those last three months. It was hard, it was lonely, and it was scary. I've felt for a long time that London is my home, more than I've ever felt in my life, but I also notice that maybe my feelings were painted rosey with a nice dose of romanticism for good measure. 

In light of accomplishing my goal of moving to London for real, here is my experience of culture shock. It may be brutal, but at least I know where I stand and hopefully I'll learn something about myself in the process. 

Stage 1: The Honeymoon Stage

This is when you arrive in a new place and everything is shiny and new. You're pointing out all the differences from back home and you're feeling so 'cultured' and 'enriched' to be somewhere so different. 

I don't think I went through this coming back. Last year, I definitely went to all the museums and saw Big Ben again. I was so excited to experience the culture and hit all the cool tourist spots. Moving back, I sighed as my mom called me and asked if I wanted to go on the London Eye when she visits this summer, internally cringing at the 30 quid I'm going to have to dish out for a giant ferris wheel. I haven't felt that need to go do the tourist stuff, I didn't spend my time giggling about how it's a 'lift' instead of an elevator. I'd done this before, I was ready to dive in and start my new life without the fluff.

Stage 2: The Distress Stage

Ah yes, the stage where all those little differences start to add up and become a big problem. You begin to feel confused and frustrated at how different everything is, and you realise that your support system from back home is completely gone. 

I can easily admit that I hit the distress stage and I hit it hard. I think the defining moment was standing in the supermarket trying to buy food. I was so frustrated because I couldn't find anything in their stupid stores and what they did have wasn't the right brand and wasn't the right flavour, and they called it different names. All in all I kind of had a breakdown. I don't think anyone ever thinks about how all the little minute details matter so much in a day to day life, but it all piles up until you don't want to get out of bed because it feels too overwhelming. 

Stage 3: Re-Integration Stage

You start to have a disdain for your new home, you reject it and begin to feel that everything back home is superior. You feel angry, frustrated, and even hostile to everyone around you, and you wonder why you ever left in the first place. You miss the familiarity of home and feel like you don't belong. 

I would say I'm currently at this stage. Add a stressful school situation into the mix, and I have become bitter and angry at the world for making my life so difficult despite getting everything I wanted. I'm constantly thinking about when I can go visit my family back home, and talking to my roommate about the frustrations of living in a giant city. People stop in the middle of the pavement and I roll my eyes and huff as I move around them. When I think about back home, I wonder why I didn't appreciate how what I had there was so good. 

Stage 4: Autonomy Stage

Finally, the first stage toward acceptance; when you begin to feel like yourself again. You begin to accept the differences and feel like you can to live with them. You feel more confident and better able to cope with problems. You no longer feel isolated; you’re able to look at the world around you and appreciate where you are.

I don't think I'm here fully yet. There are quite few days that I wake up and feel like maybe I'm starting to fully enjoy my life here, but then the following day the train is delayed and I feel like it's destroyed my entire week. I do think I will eventually get there the more I focus on learning and doing things I enjoy with people I get along with, but right now I'm teetering on the edge of simultaneously loving and hating everything around me.  

Stage 5: Independence Stage

You feel yourself again! You embrace the new culture and see everything in a new (hopefully realistic) light. Things start to become enjoyable. You feel comfortable, confident, able to make decisions based on your own preferences and values. You no longer feel alone and isolated.

Being truly independent and feeling like I'm happy and content seems like a distant glimmer. I've only been here four months, so I'm trying to give myself time to figure things out and hopefully get there. I genuinely don't how long this will take, or if it ever will, but til then I'm working on taking it one day at a time. 

So, if you're here wondering if you should take the plunge and move across the globe by yourself- I still say go for it but you've been warned. It's hard work. You constantly doubt yourself and feel torn about whether you did the right thing. I'm glad I moved here, I don't regret it at all, but I can't lie to myself and pretend it's butterflies and rainbows all the time. Living here is just here. You still feel stress and anxiety, the things in your life that affected you before still affect you in another place, just now you have to navigate it on your own. This experience has for sure given me independence; I know that I'm capable of anything and that I know how to figure stuff out. I wouldn't trade that for anything, but I still think of my hometown and feel a pang in my chest for wildly different reality I've thrown myself into.

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